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Emmanuel College Library, Cambridge

in AJ Specification 02.12

Photos: Nicholas Kane

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Project data

Start on site June 2009
Completion January 2011
Gross internal floor area 2,170m2
Form of contract JCT SBC 05 with quantities
Contract sum £5 million
Cost per m2 £2,300
Client Emmanuel College, Cambridge
Structural engineer Price & Myers
M&E consultant Ramboll
Quantity surveyor Peter W Gittins & Associates
Acoustic consultant Tim Lewers Acoustics
Project manager Kilburn Nightingale Architects
CDM co-ordinator BZ Consulting
Main contractor Killby & Gayford
CAD software used Vectorworks

The college's brief centred around improving the library for its staff and students. They required a greater number of reader spaces, enhanced accessibility, improved environmental control and increased archive storage. The library consists of the original Edwardian building (extended in the 1930s) and a 1970s extension. Our proposal involved completely refurbishing the older building and stripping back the newer part to its structure, then remodelling it to make it larger and more efficient.

The sweet chestnut-clad fins of the enlarged extension are formed by the readers' carrels. The fins wrap around the desks, where each reader is provided with an openable window, lighting and heat when required, which helps to create a quiet working environment. The new cladding is insulated with sheep's wool, which greatly improves the building's thermal insulation.

Architects' Choices

We chosen sweet chestnut to suit the proposed form of the new facades to the building, to be sustainable and locally sourced, and to complement the surrounding buildings (spanning 16th to 20th centuries). Internally, the timber theme is continued in the built in and bespoke joinery, where European oak is used throughout. Internal finished are chosen to be solid and long lasting and to age happily with minimum maintenance - in keeping with the existing college buildings.
Ben Kilburn and Richard Nightingale, directors, Kilburn Nightingale Architects.

External timber cladding

Coppiced Emglish sweet chestnut, supplied by Inwood Developments.

There are two samples of the sweet chestnut cladding shown here: the left one shows the profile of the finished cladding, the right one shows the effect of weathering on the boards. A number if timbers for the cladding and external joinery were researched, with sweet chestnut chosen for its durability, sustainability and look.

Coloured glass to windows

Enameled coloured glass by Andrew Moore Associates. The library facade is articulated by the individual readers' carrel windows, with inset panels of coloured glazing inscribed with the names of donors. The colour from the glass (and the etched lettering) is also projected onto the carpet beside the readers' desks.

Resin terrazzo flooring

Altro terrazzolite EP was used in the entrance area of the library and throughout the ground floor. The product was chosen for its monolithic quality. The marble chip and matrix colour were chosen to harmonise with the surrounding oak internal joinery and finishes to the existing building.

Solid oak joinery

Oak was chosen for all of the bespoke internal joinery. This sample is solid oak, used for elements where durability was required (desks, door linings, tables, chairs).

Oak panelling

The panelling throughout the library is veneered with a thicker 2.4mm veneer, with solid inserts where there are profiled grooves between the 'boards', giving the impression of solid timber, and being more durable than standard veneer.

Sheep's wool insulation

Thermafleece supplied this insulation, which is used for the external cladding generally and was chosed for its performance, breathability and sustainability.

Cladding fixings

These stainless steel fixing screws are samples of various fixings that were researched for the cladding. The fixings had to be stainless steel to avoid reacting with the tannins in the timber.


Brushed stainless steel ironmongery by Allgood was used throughout, chosen for durability.


This project is all about books and readers. The books and shelving divide the spaces and lead to the readers' desks around the perimeter. They provide an acoustic buffer to the quieter reading areas and add to the sense of being in a separate world of study.